The Biggest Account Planning Challenges (Part 2)

This is the second in a series of posts based on a survey we conducted as part of our webinar “The Top 3 Reasons Why Your Account Planning Process is Broken (And How You Can Fix It).”

In Part 1, we discovered that the the #1 rated problem was “Understanding the customer’s strategy and how they define and measure success.”

This post looks at the #2 challenge –  “How to conduct account reviews and coaching to drive behavior” – and offers up some advice on how to tackle.

What Are Account Reviews  & Why Are They Necessary?

An account review sparks the process to assess gaps and brainstorm options to close them. A review of a single account (or set of accounts) focuses attention on critical areas of customer relationships, objectives for the individual, the team and the company, and your company’s ability to add value to advance the objectives.

Account reviews are also an effective communication tool for you to share best practices with your teams, and develop your sales bench through mentoring and coaching.

We call these “Peer reviews” and they need commitment, time and input from all the Account plan constituents. A key constituent is obviously the front line sales managers but they are busy.

 

What Are The Benefits of Sales Coaching?

We know that sales coaching is very effective and should form a big part of account planning. Sales managers are the linchpin of the sales organization, but studies suggest they don’t have enough time to spend on the business of managing their sales business. This failure could be costing the company dearly.

According to a SEC/CEB study, coaching can improve sales productivity by 88%. It also has a huge impact on customer loyalty. According to Gallup, when sales coaching is effectively deployed, customer loyalty increases by 56%. This is not surprising given that according to CEB, 53% of customers see the ‘Purchase Experience’ as the primary driver of customer loyalty.

Even though coaching is recognized as being a true driver of sales productivity when implemented effectively, most sales managers don’t employ a consistent coaching practice in their business. In fact 73% of sales managers spend less than 5% of their time coaching.

Some don’t know how to coach, others don’t see the value and in many cases sales managers cite ‘Not enough time’ as a key reason for not engaging in this proven best practice. We think that in fact the real reason is that sales managers do not have the requisite knowledge that equips them to coach effectively and often can’t easily assess what opportunities or sellers would benefit from a coaching intervention.

 

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Why Don’t Sales Managers Coach or Conduct Account Reviews Effectively?

The knowledge gap is clearly an issue. They don’t necessarily understand the value, and they certainly don’t have the knowledge to coach. We have evolved our training to reflect the importance being attached to this – the process is guided by the principles of Learn, Lead and Apply, with Managers being equipped to Lead their teams through Account Planning and Account Reviews.

We believe that technology and smart automation have an effective role to play – but that’s a discussion for another day!

 

The Peer Review process

The Peer Review process is a technique we have used for a number of years at The TAS Group to review an account plan in a very compelling way. It has specific steps meant to encourage the development of really solid ideas for improving the plan.  And, in the process, the people engaged in the review also learn a good deal about how they can improve their own plans.

As one of our customers said, you need a plan to make a plan, but you need to approach it with the correct frame of mind.

At a very high level, the Peer Review process has 3 steps:

  • Everyone needs to understand the plan
  • Provide an opportunity for review and feedback
  • And finally the presenting team can incorporate the suggestions back into the plan

Before the process, we ask that sales managers reinforce that this is a positive and collaborative process, with an expected outcome of an improved account plan. Then, once the peer review process is finished, we recommend that leaders follow up with the team to identify specific ideas from the review process that have been or will be incorporated into the plan and of course make sure they are ACTIONED.

 

The Peer Review process in more detail

At The TAS group, we use and teach a very formal process for Account Reviews with specific steps for the presenters in the top row (blue in graphic below) and the reviewers in the lower row in green. The entire process should be accomplished within 90 minutes.

The first stage of the process is geared to ensuring that everyone understands the plan. The presenter therefore “presents” the plan and answers any questions the reviewers have. An exhaustive Q&A session is critical for ensuring everyone fully grasps the plan and helps uncover new potential vulnerabilities.

Stage 2 of the review process is aimed at identifying the top 3 vulnerabilities and make recommendations. The presenting team goes first, then the reviewing team or teams are given an opportunity to identify their additional vulnerabilities and make recommendations in a “round robin” format.

Finally, at Stage 3, the presenting team make alterations to the plan, according to the agreed recommendations.

 

We recommend 4 “reviewer” roles:

The customer role is that of a key player.  These are usually people in executive-level positions, and as such, they want to clearly understand the value you will bring to their business, and how you will help them achieve their business objectives.

As a competitor, you want to imagine that by some miracle you are present at this account plan review and your focus is on how you will win against the account team.

The sales manager wants to be sure that the team is headed in the right direction, and is thinking strategically.  The sales manager also wants to see justification that allocating resources to this plan would make sense.

Partners want to know how this plan will benefit them, as well as whether or not the two teams are working effectively together.  And since you have a mutual customer, they will also be considering how the plan will provide value to the customer.

Finally it is useful if someone makes sure that the methodology is understood as well as managing the process and ensuring that key questions have been asked.

So, to get the optimum return from the review exercise you should update your plan, and create ACTIONS. This critical piece, the action plan, should drive your plan execution. It comprises the directional signposts that point to the attainment of your goal. Experienced practitioners develop Objectives, Strategies and Actions that transform the plan into a sequence of actionable steps that you can be progressed.

 

You should divide objectives into three categories:

Current opportunities that you are pursuing need a Revenue Objective. You should have one for each Plan Unit (Division or Account) that you have selected, focusing on the combined revenue from your current opportunities in that unit over the duration of the plan.

Every Plan Unit that has a Potential Opportunity needs a Business Development Objective that focuses on qualifying, in the short term, your future opportunities.

In addition to Revenue and Business Development Objectives you also might require broader objectives that apply either to the Plan Unit, or to all of the Plan Units that you have included in your plan. These objectives — which may include Marketing, Partnering, Relationship, etc. — ensure that you utilize all of the resources available to you to effectively maximize your position.

Once we know how to do account planning reviews, we need to prioritize our accounts and focus on those with the most potential. This will be the focus of the final part of our series on “account planning challenges.”

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